Last Updated: 2/10/09
I wrote an article for the Windstar Wildlife Institute newsletter. As they do not have archives yet, I wanted to share the article with other pond lovers. I have taken the liberty of making some of the key words in these articles into active links to those areas of my web site on that topic. I also have an article I wrote for them that was (much to my surprise!) published years later on 6/25/04. If you would like to print any of these articles in a newsletter or elsewhere or have me write an article, please contact me.
For other articles that I have been in or ones I wrote that I cannot have on my site since they are copyrighted by someone else, see my features page.
How to Have a Crystal Clear Pond Year Round
The Five Best Marginals for a Wildlife Pond
It's so predictable. You finally put in that nice new pond. No matter what the size, no matter what you put in, you are proud. You've read all about the nitrogen cycle and mastered it and have built the pond to perfection. It looks great, for about two weeks. Then, one day you go outside, and you can't see more than an inch into the water. You've just experienced your first suspended algae bloom. Don't panic. This is NORMAL! Suspended algae is a plant that is part of a natural pond ecosystem. It would be much better if there were just some nice attached algae in the pond, and the water were crystal clear. So, you run to the local store where they most likely say, "You MUST have product XYZ" which they just so happen to carry. You try it out. Maybe it helps but often not. If you want a natural pond, avoid algaecides and chemicals that say they harm any plant or animal.
So, what is the magic secret to having a clear pond all the time? First, know that the first two springs, there will be algae blooms. This is normal and pretty much unavoidable. By the third year, a pond should always be clear, no matter the size. A few things to check before fighting the battle of the suspended algae include making sure the pond is not overstocked with animals, that they are not being overfed, that there is little to no runoff getting into the pond which can feed algae blooms, and that the top off water you are using does not have high levels of ammonia, nitrate, or phosphate. The most often discussed key to clear water is the addition of lots and lots of plants of all sorts as they will compete with the algae for "food." If the pond contains fish like koi that eat most of the plants, then the addition of a vegetative filter or mini planted pond that is connected to the main pond will do wonders. It may also help in ponds where plants are not desired to install tarps or other sun barriers above the pond to provide more shade. In a planted pond, water lilies and other plants do this for you. Two more recent methods of controlling algae include the addition of bacterial preparations such as Microbe-Lift or BZT and the use of barley straw. The addition of bacteria not only aids the biological filter but helps with the breakdown of wastes in the pond at a faster pace. If a pond is very dirty, the decomposition process will feed the algae cycle. Of course, having a good filtration system and keeping the pond clean helps control algae. Avoid totally draining and scrubbing clean a pond that's over about 50 gallons if you want to avoid another algae bloom. Cleaning too well kills the beneficial bacteria, good algae, and microorganisms that keep a pond balanced. Barley straw produces minute quantities of hydrogen peroxide as it decomposes which help to suppress algae. It takes a few weeks or longer to really take effect. Most pond suppliers have jumped on the pond wagon and now sell barley straw. It is one of the few economical and natural methods to use in a large farm pond (in addition to aeration systems and plants if possible). If lots of plants, a good filtration system, barley straw, and good bacteria don't work to clear the pond, then a properly-sized UV sterilizer will work. They do have many downsides as well, including killing off the microorganisms living in a balanced, natural pond. Hopefully, after a few years of moments of frustration, your pond too will be crystal clear every day of the year like mine!
I have no UV sterilizers and never use algaecides. My ponds range from under 20 gallons to 1800 gallons. You can read about everything mentioned in this article at my web site at http://www.fishpondinfo.com/pond.htm
There are so many species of aquatic plants, how do we limit ourselves to just five species? Of course, most pond keepers want water lilies and submerged plants like native anacharis (Elodea canadensis). When it comes to marginal plants, there are hundreds of choices. Marginals or emergents are plants whose roots and base are in water all or most of the time. In order to limit the choices, we will look for marginals that are native to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, very easy to find for sale at most pond suppliers, easy to care for, helpful for wildlife, aid in pond filtration, tend not to jump or bust pots, and provide us with beauty from interesting leaves and pretty flowers.
Pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata) is perhaps one of the most beautiful native plants around. It sends up spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers in summer that last for weeks. The flowers attract many butterflies and bees in for nectar. It grows in wet soil and up to a foot of water but prefers a few inches over the crown. When it peaks, pickerel grows two to three feet high. Even when not in bloom, the long v-shaped leaves bring interest to any pond.
Lizard tail (Saururus cernuus) is quite an interesting plant. In summer, it develops white flowers that droop like an upside down U. Insects (mostly fly-type) are attracted by the slightly stinky flowers. Lizard tail is a beautiful plant with lush foliage. There is now a variety with red stems. Lizard tail will survive in areas that flood with rain to up to about half a foot of water but is happiest in about one to two inches of water. It grows a few feet high and will fill out a two gallon pot in one season.
Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) was a favorite of American Indians and wildlife. Also called duck potato, both humans and wildlife alike relish their tubers. It puts out an inconspicious white flower in summer that later sinks into the water. The interesting leaves are shaped like arrowheads. Arrowhead grows in water up to six inches deep and reaches two feet high.
No pond is complete without a native water iris like blue flag iris (Iris versicolor). The May flowers bring stunning color to any pond. Blue flag will grow in damp soil or up to half a foot of water but does best in about two inches of water. The leaves grow up to 2.5 feet. The lush grass-like foliage fills out a pond. While most iris will send their rhizomes out of pots, grow fast, and even bust through pots, the blue flag iris does this to a much lesser degree than yellow flag iris.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is the perfect plant for areas with moving water like streams and waterfalls. In May, it sends up lots of white flowers that attract insects. Watercress is wonderful! It is perhaps the best plant for a stream vegetative filter as it sucks up huge quantities of nutrients for an explosion of growth. Plant it bare root in pea gravel so that flowing water moves through the gravel year-round. It will not survive long in still water, dried out, or frozen. Watercress is edible. Not only can you enjoy the slightly bitter greens in your salad but most greens-eating pets will love it as well. So, it never goes to waste. When it grows too large, you eat it! You can even buy fresh watercress at the grocery store and put it into a stream, anchored with pea gravel, and it will root and grow. Plant watercress in under two inches of water. Leaves grow to only about a foot high except when it's time to flower. Then, the plant shoots up to two feet high. In summer, after flowering, watercress dies back but it will return in the fall! Unlike other pond plants, watercress will remain green year-round as long as the stream continues to flow.
There are many other winning native marginals for ponds. These runners-up include arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), common cattail (Typha latifolia, invasive but native), dwarf cattail (Typha minima), narrrowleaf cattail (Typha augustifolia), hardy canna (Thalia dealbata, a tall native with purplish flowers 6 feet in the air), bog bean (Menyanthes trifolia), golden club (Orontium aquaticum), horsetail rush (Equisetum hyemale), and more! All of these marginals can be planted in pond pots of clay and topped with pea gravel or planted directly into an earth-bottomed pond. A few can be planted directly in pea gravel in an ornamental pond like watercress, iris, and lizard tail. For a lot more information on pond plants, visit http://www.fishpondinfo.com/plants/plant.htm.
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